By Leonard A. Sipes, Jr. and Beverly Hill. Edited by Cedric Hendricks and Joyce McGinnis
See http://media.csosa.gov for “DC Public Safety” radio and television shows.
See www.csosa.gov for the web site of the federal Court Services and Offender Services Agency.
It’s a cold and sunny late November day in Washington, DC. We are on patrol with Police Officer Grady Holmes and four employees of the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency (CSOSA). For the next few hours we will visit the homes of offenders on probation or parole. We are conducting an Accountability Tour.
CSOSA is a federal, executive branch agency responsible for parole and probation services in the District of Columbia. Community Supervision Officers (known as parole and probation officers in most states) conduct approximately 5,000 Accountability Tours every year. “Accountability Tours are self explanatory,” states Gladys Dorgett, a veteran Supervisory Community Supervision Officer who has been with CSOSA since it’s inception in 1997. She was a liaison with foreign officials for the State Department before that. “We hold the offender accountable for his actions. The partnering of members of the Metropolitan Police Department with Community Supervision Officers (CSOs) sends a powerful message that we are in this together. We and the police department are partners in making sure that the offender does what he is supposed to do. If you screw up, you deal with both agencies.”
Every Accountability Tour involves visits to approximately 10 homes. If an offender misses a drug test, he gets an Accountability Tour. Not cooperating with special conditions imposed by the court or Parole Commission merits a visit. New to the neighborhood? That too produces a meeting at the offender’s home. Not reporting to the CSO as required will guarantee a visit before a warrant is obtained.
Most Accountability Tours are scheduled. Some are a surprise. It depends on the offender and the circumstances prompting the visit. It makes sense for the offender and his family members or sponsors to be there for questions.
“He can’t stay here unless he gets a job,” states the mother of an offender on probation for a drug charge. “He knows that he has to improve, and I’m not putting up with any foolishness!”
The mother’s statement illustrates the value of Accountability Tours. During office visits, the offender can say anything he wants and it’s often the responsibility of the supervising CSO to verify the information. Verifications come quick during Accountability Tours.
“What about commercial driving licenses,” the mother of the probationer continues. “Is he eligible for some kind of program where he can get his CDL?” The CSO explains the process for obtaining a CDL and offers to help the offender get employment. While the offender’s mother is intent on finding training and employment for her son, the offender does not seem to be trying hard enough to take advantage of available services. The CSO, the offender and his mother agree to another meeting at the office to further explore job training and employment possibilities.
“This shows another aspect of the Accountability Tour,” states CSOSA Branch Chief William Ashe, who is along on the tour. Bill was a Deputy Chief of Community Corrections in Virginia before coming to CSOSA. “The mother will insist. The wife will not take ‘no’ for an answer. The family is often our best ally in the effort to produce a taxpayer out of a tax burden. The court, Parole Commission, police department or the Community Supervision Officer may struggle to get the offender to comply with the rules or take advantage of services. But in the home, in the presence of family, they often become partners with the purpose to help the offender succeed.”
The price for repeated failure can be harsh. The presence of the police officer reminds all that the next visit may not be a support meeting. It may result in handcuffs and a trip downtown and a possible return to prison. No one misunderstands the purpose of the visit.
It’s About my Mother
CSOSA and the Metropolitan Police Department conduct over 5,000 Accountability Tours in the nation’s capitol each year. Accountability Tours are part of an overall strategy to get the parole and probation officer in the community. “Fortress probation” is a term used by many to decry the practice of the supervision officer conducting his work from behind the desk. “Street supervision” is the preferred method of supervision at CSOSA.
“You have to be on the street sharing information with the police and everyone who comes into contact with the offender” states Dwayne Murray, a five year veteran of CSOSA and a former DC Correctional Officer. “Everything is about standards and holding the offender accountable for his actions. You hold the offender accountable by knowing what’s going on in his life. You know what’s going on in his life by visiting his home, place of employment and where he hangs out. The police officer that accompanies you acts as your eyes and ears. He shares the information with other officers, who also keep an eye on the offender.”
“Now, if your guy is on the corner messing with the sanity of the neighborhood, you know about it, and you can take appropriate action. Nothing shakes an offender out of his sense of getting lost in the system like a police officer showing up and pointing out the fact that they are under supervision, and there are consequences for behavior that threatens the community.”
“The police officer can only take action for lawlessness. I can put an offender in prison for not following the rules of supervision. Together, we form a potent bond. The community is appreciative for the intervention; the family is appreciative for the programs to help the offender. The collective pressure is what many offenders need to succeed.”
“It’s about my mother. Everything I do protects her and everyone else in D.C.”
“The thing to remember is that the officers like these encounters,” states D.C. police officer Grady Holmes. It keeps us in touch with the offenders on our beat. We appreciate the constant sharing of information with CSOSA. It a partnership that works!”
A Comprehensive Approach — Accountability and Treatment
Joint warrant service in the community is another new initiative for CSOSA and the Metropolitan Police Department. Approximately 1,200 arrest warrants are served in field offices every year. Teams of Community Supervision Officers are now joining police officers to track down offenders for warrant service. CSOSA’s information system (SMART) puts comprehensive information on the offender right at the CSOs fingertips whether he is in the field using a laptop computer and a wireless network card or in the office. One of the best offender information management systems in the country, SMART gives the CSO immediate access to information on the offenders known hangouts, the address and telephone numbers of family members and acquaintances, gang affiliations, tattoos and other physical features. That information can be vital in finding offenders in the community. Law enforcement has direct access to the CSOSA computer system.
In addition to Accountability Tours, Community Supervision Officers make thousands of additional home and employment visits without the presence of police officers. Generally, Community Supervision Officers conduct these visits in teams, but sometimes they go alone. Armed only with a bulletproof vest, cell phone and a jacket that identifies the CSO as CSOSA employee, CSOs routinely travel into very high crime and drug neighborhoods. Despite the obvious risk, they recognize that effective supervision goes beyond office visits.
CSOSA enjoys some of the lowest caseload ratios in the country. General supervision caseloads average one CSO to 50 offenders. Special caseloads that include sex, mental health, high-risk drug and domestic violence offenders and offenders convicted of driving while intoxicated offenses often have ratios of 25 or 30 offenders to each Community Supervision Officer. While there are no national statistics on caseload ratios, it is not unusual for states and counties to have 150 offenders for every parole and probation officer.
What this means is that CSOSA has frequent contact with the offender. Close to 50 percent of the population is on either maximum or intensive supervision or are part of a special supervision program (sex offenders, mental health, etc.) that also demand lots of contact.
Substance abuse testing is strict. All offenders submit drug tests twice a week for the first eight weeks of supervision. If all tests are negative, drug testing is reduced to twice a month for the next twelve weeks, then one a month thereafter. One violation returns the offender to the original testing schedule.
Thus CSOSA probably comes into contact with offenders more often than the vast majority of supervision agencies in the United States. Back that number of contacts with Accountability Tours and additional home visits without police officers, then it is clear that offenders can be held accountable for their actions.
Services are Necessary
But it’s vital to note that accountability is not just an emphasis on enforcement. Research from the Department of Justice on boot camps and intensive parole and probation supervision makes it clear that strict supervision cannot and will not keep offenders from recidivating. Reducing recidivism requires both accountability and services.
Intensive supervision alone will not help a mentally ill person to be compliant. An offender with a sexual orientation towards children needs targeted treatment. A drug-addicted person will continue to be a drug-addicted person if not provided treatment services. Intensive contact with a community supervision officer will not change these facts. Treatment is a necessary component of successful community supervision.
CSOSA has locations throughout the City of Washington to assist offenders with everything from GED preparation to employment. Hundreds of volunteer mentors from approximately 50 churches and mosques assist offenders returning from prison. The faith-based community has formed a coalition to coordinate a wide array of services. All of CSOSA’s special supervision programs have treatment, intervention and counseling components. CSOSA provides direct services to some special supervision offenders and funds private treatment services for others. In 2006 CSOSA will begin operation of a 100-bed Reentry and Sanctions Center to provide state-of-the-art assessment and pre- treatment for high-risk drug offenders.
The final element in CSOSA’s arsenal of interventions is a system of intermediate sanctions. The research is clear, the more closely an offender is supervised, the more opportunities there will be to violate them for failing to meet a condition of their release. The court can mandate a GED program as part of an offender’s probation, society will not likely support returning an offender to prison for not going to school or for repeat positive urines. Were society to take this stance, few offenders would succeed under community supervision, and the prison system would have to expand dramatically. Seventy percent of the people under correctional supervision are “managed” in the community. Problems and violations are routine and expected.
CSOSA employs a comprehensive series of intermediate sanctions that mandate immediate actions for violations. Depending on the offense, sanctions may range from meetings with supervisors to daily reporting. Home visits, Accountability Tours and satellite tracking, home detention and curfews are all strategies CSOSA employs to ensure accountability while allowing the offender to remain in the community. However, while we may employ the best in supervision services, there are no guarantees that the offender will remain crime free.
Back to the Tour
We are in the home of a parolee, released from prison after serving time for PCP distribution. He greets the police officer by his first name. He asks about another police officer, again by his first name.
Officer Holmes smiles and relates that he has lots of history with the offender. “Yeah, I know him,” the officer states. “I know lots of repeat offenders. All of us do. That’s why officers like to interact with CSOSA. If he’s on supervision, we can contact the Community Supervision Officer and form a plan for treatment or supervision. That’s the only way these guys are going to straighten out their lives. I can ask CSOSA for help.”
Another point made by several of the Community Supervision Officers the day of the tour is their pride in the District of Columbia. They know they play a major role in the stabilization of communities. D.C. is reemerging as a city with intense neighborhood pride. Gladys Dorgett constantly points out the cleanliness and beauty of the middle and working class sections of the city. “Residents take great pride in their communities,” she states. They want us here. They want us to form a cooperative bond with the police. They, more than anyone else, want us to succeed.”
“I Require a Lot From my Offenders”
“We save neighborhoods,” explains Rosalyn Brown. Rosalyn worked her way up from a clerical position with the D.C. Pretrial Services Agency as a program assistant to her current job as a Community Supervision Officer with CSOSA. “These neighborhoods are beautiful. Property values are soaring. People here have always been proud of being Washingtonians.”
“But it can change in a heartbeat. If the system is not vigilant, if we are not careful, the progress made in northeast D.C. and throughout the city can be easily be undone. We are in the position to make neighborhoods livable. Neighborhoods can be greatly impacted by one criminal. He can make life miserable for everyone. We are here to make sure, to the best of our ability that decay does not happen because of an offender’s actions.”
“If a community member or police officer brings an offender’s actions to my attention, we take action. I require a lot from my offenders.”
“But it’s not all about enforcement. Home visits allow for a greater sense of intimacy. The offender will often communicate more in an environment he is comfortable in. They will open up as a person. That’s the kind of interaction that can lead to real progress. If he tells me what’s going on in his life, and I can win his trust and provide the services he needs. Often they will tell you that they are tired of the system and the never-ending cycle of arrest and incarceration. I can help, especially if family members are supportive or if they demand change. We can then act as a team and produce real change.”
“But you can often tell how well the offender will do while on community supervision by the reaction of the family. If they show great interest, then there is a chance. If they don’t care, then the odds for a successful outcome decrease. That’s why you have to be in the community and in their homes. Being here allows me to assess the situation first hand.”
We visit the last home. We knock on the door of an offender who is not reporting for supervision. No one answers the door. There are no signs of life in the home. A notice is left. The CSO will follow-up with final attempts to locate the offender before a warrant is sought for violation of probation. We visited 10 homes during today’s Accountability Tour.
CSOSA and the Metropolitan Police Department will continue efforts to jointly supervise offenders. It’s all part of a strategy to use partners and community organizations to suppress crime and produce safe communities. And its all part of Rosalyn Brown’s assertion that “We save neighborhoods.”